My $.02 on Gravity Payments 70K Minimum Salary

I first heard about this story in late July by reading this NY Times article. I also decided to read this article in Forbes, this one in Entrepreneur, and this one in Fistful of Talent.  Four articles is plenty for me to have an opinion.

Really, there are two pieces of this story that interest me.

Psychology – Price hears a psychology study and realizes his company can do better providing for people’s basic needs.  Fact: people who make 70K aren’t worrying about paying the basic bills.  “Price based the figure on a 2010 Princeton study he read, and an epiphany while on a hike with his friend who was struggling to pay her bills on an annual income of $40,000.” – From Entrepreneur.  Basically, just take a look at Maslow – employee’s have their basic needs taken care of and can then focus on other pieces like improving job performance, or saving, or creativity.

Maslow, Compensation, Benefits

Biblical Literacy – The man paid attention to this extremely disturbing biblical parable of the Workers in the Field that rocks me every time I read it.  Seriously, go read it.   The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t work like the USA works, and doesn’t work like we want it to work.  It won’t be “fair” they way we like to think of “fairness.”  Is Price a Christian?  Well, he grew up in a household of faith, but he isn’t anymore.  According to the NY Times –  “Mr. Price is no longer so religious, but the values and faith he grew up on are “in my DNA – It’s just something that’s part of me.”

Parable of the Workers

So, this crazy decision made his employees obviously uncomfortable.  No, it wasn’t fair within his company, and he definitely should have consulted other people on his decision.  It’s demoralizing to people who only got a slight salary increase for their already higher paying positions.  After all “ Giving large raises to lower paid, lower contributing employees may be well intentioned, but unless it’s paired with equitable raises for higher contributing employees, it is bound to cause dissatisfaction and turnover.” (As Forbes points out: Equity Theory!)  I can easily see other psychology principles coming into play pretty soon, like the fact that we easily get accustomed to the new normal – hello Hedonic Treadmill!

But, quite a lot of what I see in this is that we (journalists? Americans? pundits? fellow employees) continue to confuse the idea of labor value with personal worth, and at the same time, pretend that how much we earn shouldn’t/doesn’t affect how we see each other.

The change forced the employees to reckon with the way they judge their own worth and the way they judge the worth of other employees.  Suddenly, they’re all on the same “worth” scale, and so they cry foul, they see it as an attack on their personal worth.  If I’m suddenly making as much as the admin, despite my different duties and education, am I worth what I think I am?  Serious ego blow.  I think this is also a story about identity and the way we value people.

That, and the obvious workplace connection, is what makes me keep thinking about this story.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us plenty of ways and formulas to help calculate salaries and benefits, but they don’t touch on how we as humans make meaning from that data and determine worth.  A lot of us take what the BLS says about labor value, and the emphasis on making money and spending money and determine that a salary is equivalent to their personal worth.  All you do is answer phones, that’s not worthwhile, you’re not worth a wage like that.  That’s not even close to true. My labor is worth a dollar amount, but my worth as a person is priceless.

What I think Price did is to try and make that discrepancy between worth and value a little smaller.  His method was flawed, imperfect and is causing waves, but I definitely applaud him for a radical decision and doing something.

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Where does the Money Go?

In April I wanted to do a money inventory.  Budgeting, recording, penny pinching – none of these things are new to me.  Over the last five years of my life I’ve gotten fairly good at sticking within budgets I’ve set, so I wasn’t really interested in how much we spent, so much as I was interested in the ways we spent it. After all, you can tell a lot about what a person values by observing their spending habits.

Well, these are some of the things I would say I value that I think money can buy:

Preparedness and Peace of Mind

Family Memories

Friends

Community

Health

Education.

But, as it turns out, do I spend my money on these things?

When it comes to Peace of Mind – I spent a fair amount of money this month buying up tools for organizing the house.  I mentioned that I read some books about organizing, and after doing the types of assessment recommended – such as figuring out problem areas – I purchased some storage containers and made plans to buy a cart to store our “current projects.” It turned out organizing gave me a lot of peace of mind.  I had been thinking we needed to move before we could deal with some of my house woes.  Actually, some of them were just the result of, to put it one way, bad design.

My new craft space

We spent money on friends when we went out to eat once, and when we took a hike in New Hampshire to celebrate my birthday.  But… that was it, and it wasn’t that much.  Actually, seeing how few times we spent money buying gifts for others or taking others out to eat (or even inviting them over to eat) made me remember that I want our main family mission to be hospitality – and we’re not living up to it.  We can do better – we just have to figure out how.

The Fire Tower at Pawtuckaway State Park, NH.

Healthwise I finally buckled down and made a purchase during the last week of April I’ve been contemplating for about 6 months.  I bought the p90x DVDs used on Amazon.  This is cheaper than a gym membership and the odds of me doing it are very high.  I’m pretty motivated when it comes to doing exercise DVDs, and I’m planning to start the program on May 14th.

But… we didn’t spend much on family memories, community, and education.  When Steve and I first got married we joked about eating ice cream every Monday at the ice cream store for the rest of our lives.  We had just spent a blissful summer doing that and it is a really good memory.  Thinking back on that I really want to bring it back.

We could certainly spend more money in our community – not just by giving to charities but by purchasing more things downtown.  In Salem I bought a few things at Scrub, Lifebridge, and of course my weekly coffee break at Jaho, but not too much more.  As I’m looking to upgrade my wardrobe this year, I want to make more of an effort to purchase clothes at some of the boutiques downtown.  I probably also need to look into some of the other non-tourist non-eatery type businesses downtown as well so I can get an idea of what else I could buy there, instead of at Target or on Amazon.   Spending money within the local downtown helps out businesses and the community.  If you want to know more about this, I wrote a post about it here.

How do you match up your values with your spending?  What areas could you improve on?

Responding to Christian Smith: Materialism and Consumption

This is Part 3 in a 5 Part Series responding to Christian Smith’s Book Lost in Transition

When it comes to Emerging Adults it seems as though the goal of life can be summed up in a few words: money, lots of it.   Although most didn’t want several houses, and a dozen cars (yes, some did), a minority seem to conceive of a good life beyond making money to support a comfortable (middle class) lifestyle or something a bit more extravagant.  When asked what they wanted to achieve in life the majority (60 percent) mentioned financial security as an important piece.

I somewhat fall into this majority of emerging adults, imagining days in the future when I can afford a car that doesn’t have a 19— on it’s registration and possibly a little extra space for a guest bedroom or a sunroom in my home.  However, I do diverge from another crucial belief of the surveyed emerging adults who hold that if you earn money it is yours to spend as you please, with no thought to limited resources on the earth, how much you already own, or how little someone else has.  In essence, they hold there should be no limits on wealth or consumption and little pressure socially or legally to donate money.

The larger questions behind these two concepts of money are, What is the good life? and How much do we need to contribute to the common welfare?

How can we begin to look beyond money, or things that money can buy?  The first step may be to turn off the television. Literally true, as Juliet Schor wrote about in her book the Overspent American; the more television you watch, the more things you want to buy.  The more people you see on TV who have plenty of money who are spending it in irresponsible ways, or have never-ending wardrobes, or simply just watching so many advertisements makes you more discontented with your own belongings.  Which means you spend more money.

Some of the other broader ways to address the issues are

:To focus on character development. Money is often a way of focusing on the outward appearances in life, but it can’t bring the same satisfaction as a job well done, a goal achieved, or an experience that you’ve worked hard for.  It is also a poor substitute for friends.

:To understand the paradox of simplicity.  First, it turns out that beyond meeting basic needs and some comforts, more money doesn’t make people any happier.  (This research is touched on in a lot of places, but I read articles most recently in Time magazine, and the aforementioned book by Juliet Schor.)  Simplicity additionally provides an environment that allows you to think clearly and see what really matters in life, much of which is intangible. Rather than be clouded by the latest thrill or gadget you are able to live with a balance of old and new, the familiar as well as the novel.   The less you have, the more you are able to enjoy others.  (Should you be interested in a Christian perspective on simplicity, I would recommend Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity)

:To focus on charity in both senses of the word.  To be charitable toward others by giving them benefit of the doubt and kindly glossing over their faults is one way of looking at this.  However, when it comes to giving money charitably, I think the best way to do it is to plan it into your budget at whatever amount is possible on a monthly basis, the same as any other bill, whether it be ten, one hundred, or more dollars each month. After all, people that give away money are happier and healthier.

Again, this comes down to the question, What is the good life? And how are we to define that? Is there any way that what one person answers should relate to another person’s answers, or can everyone define the good life in their own way, even if it contradicts?  That brings us back to the morality question.  Did you come up with any answers yet?

Plenitude: A Reflection

Reading Plenitude reminded me of an old college goal I used to have, to grow up and live in a building with my floormates. At the age of 19 when I proposed this goal, I had a foggy idea that we’d all (or most) get married eventually, yet it was far off.   Also, at 19, I had no idea about bills, or owning pots and pans.

I’m older, married, and have a child now.  However, it would still be nice to live in a triple decker with a few other like minded couples/families.  I would also love to have a few fruit trees, a bee box or two, and don’t mind wearing used clothes. It’s the community that I crave, of course.  This is yet another aspect of the sustainability movement that I love, it champions social connection.

But, upon waxing rhapsodic about Plenitude’s self-provisioning plan, my husband made a face.  “Do I have to can stuff?”  he asked.

He doesn’t fear the unknown in this case.  Last fall in New Brunswick he got a chance to can and freeze for a day at one of the organic farms we wwoofed at. Any more than that day isn’t something he wants to do.  I sympathize. Canning is hot, sweaty, time consuming, and sometimes really messy!  Self Provisioning is Time Consuming (and sometimes hard).  Modern conveniences are, well, convenient.

Even I flounder when it comes to used clothes.  Sometimes what I really want is a pair of well fitting jeans.  I don’t want to spend several months trying on ill-fitting pairs and discarding them.  After this time of searching has gone on far too long, I’m back at the mall.  Once there I remember that everything is in style, probably on sale, and maybe it’s better to just buy all new clothes anyway.

Furthermore, sometimes I just want to be really rich. Like, a couple million dollars sitting in a safe place earning a seven percent return each year.  Why?  Because it’s hard to believe in this economy, in this day and age, that some good neighbors, a little garden, and a local swap are going to bring me absolute security or happiness.  Time Banks aren’t exactly common knowledge yet.  Because I haven’t been to Europe yet, and I would like to see some castles in Germany.

Using a bank used to be risky.  Currency used to be risky.  It was for uncommon purchases.  Now money is ubiquitous and time is precious.  So we (I) hoard my time. I spend my time on myself, and so do a lot of other people.  Sure, if there were more of it, maybe we would spend it on others, but maybe we would all just use the internet a lot more.  After all, canning is work.

The transition to a Plenitude economy is all about this shift of community and money.  How do we percieve them now, and how can we change some of that perception to be more healthy.  How can be turn our economy into one that is an eco-friendly system of work, carbon usage, and consumerism.

Ultimately, this is the quote from the book that sums up my grappling with the balance issues which raises in life, between money and time, objects and people.

“Those in the vanguard of sustainability have found their purpose in helping to save the planet.  But for the vast majority of us, ecological living is not the object of our passion.  We will understand that it’s necessary and may enjoy it.  But deep meaning is found elsewhere, in family, friends, personal creativity, religion, music and art, social justice, science, business, or helping others.  Plenitude as an economic strategy cannot supply that meaning: it can only help achieve it.”

Pumpkin Farming and Community

I have been busy the last three days hauling roughly 2000 ripe pumpkins with a cadre of international friends and learning how to make tofu from soy beans.  That, and reading The Small-Mart Revolution (by Michael H. Shuman).  Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but pumpkin picking, piling, wiping, and moving is repetitive, mindless work.  Since it took a total of 8 – 10 hours to complete a 4 acre field, I have also had time to formulate how best to sum up this book for the discerning community participant, which is y.o.u.  What follows are several “what you can do” points from the book (and more can be found here), a whirlwind of Massachusetts local information on farming and food, and some observations and ideas on retail and community living in Beverly.

Luckily for all of us, Shuman does not feel the need to start his book with a reiteration of WalMart as the anti-christ/devil incarnate.  (I usually put down books which waste ink, paper, and brain cells on repetitive diatribes without solutions.  Half this book is dedicated to solutions.)  As Shuman himself points out on page 7; the point of a Revolution is to “improve prosperity of every community…by maximizing opportunities for locally owned businesses… which is half the typical economy.” He also provides a statistic on page 43 that this half of the economy also provides “at least 58 percent” of jobs. (p. 43)

Jobs which are not place-based, and largely non-locally owned (ie: Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon) leech from the community (best approximated by tax jurisdiction) money which could be spent improving the community. (p. 40)  They are also plied with incentives from community builders that usually destroy locally owned (ie: mom and pop) shops.  Then he describes an interesting term I hadn’t heard before: “multiplier.”  He writes, “Each purchase you make triggers purchases by others.  For instance, a dollar spend on rent might be spent again by your property owner at your local grocer, who in turn pays an employee, who then buys a movie ticket.”  This is a multiplier, how many times the dollar is used in the community.  He says, the best thing you can do, is keep your money local.  He cites a study of “leakage” of dollars in Austin, TX. which notes that of 100 dollars spent at Borders 13 circulate back into the local community, of 100 dollars spent at 2 local book stores, 45 circulate back into the community.  The more times the money circulates, the more tax revenue it generates.  (Also, you can view the study on this blog/website.)

Then he gives Massachusetts residents a kick in the pants about purchasing things in Tax Free New Hampshire.

That, friends, is the book in a nutshell.  It’s chock full of other case studies about big vs. small business, incentives the government provides to big businesses, and how diversification is best for an area, and as previously mentioned also full of five chapters of how y.o.u can make a difference.

A riddle posed at most farms, and among most foodies I’ve lived with and talked with can be summarized like so, “How come we’re buying apples from New York (Washington, Nova Scotia, Vancouver…etc) when we grow apples right here in Massachusetts (list other places here.) and they’re buying our apples.”  To this, Shuman proposes a little slogan that’s been kicking around for awhile. “Local First.”

“Local First” says, if you can, choose to buy your apples from a local source (perhaps one of the farms the Massachusetts government lists on their website here. Or one the Food Project so kindly provides a link to here.)  And if you can, choose to buy your beer from a local source.  And if you can, choose to eat out at a locally owned restaurant.  And if you can, choose to entertain yourself with a local band.  But here I am, just listing off to you half a dozen links I know of, and you probably can’t click them all.  But if you do get the time, click of them, and this other project that is really taking off called the 3/50 project.

Finally, since I spent 20 months in downtown Beverly without a car and had plenty of time to walk around Rantoul and Cabot streets in all kind of weather, I humbly propose that there are still several businesses missing from downtown that could round out the Beverly Main Streets. (Actually, I’m sure there are dozens, but these are the items that took the most hassle to get without a car.)

1. A shoe store.  2.  A book store (if you are going to forgo Amazon.com, or even just for the atmosphere) 3. Non-used clothing.  (I’ll be honest, thrifted socks aren’t appealing to me.) 4.  Home Goods (shelving, dishes, curtains, towels and the like.  It’s either Family Dollar or the Antique Shop.) 5.  A real honest bakery with bread.  I love pies and pastries too of course, but a good loaf of bread was hard to come by.  (sorry Stop and Shop, and Cassis.)

And, I will leave you with one last great idea to support local business in Beverly (and the North Shore).  The BevCard. which is like a insider SamsClub type card providing you with deals and discounts to different shops and services.  I think this is a fantastic idea, even better than the Beverly Main Streets coupon book, but hopefully would work in tandem too.  I hope that in the next few years it will be able to provide many more links between businesses and that people will rush to be part of a great network.